Pretty soon Ramadan starts for 1.57 billion people in the world and there’s a fair number of bodybuilders, workout and fitness enthusiasts among them. The biggest question for them is how to observe the first without compromising their goals in the latter. Here are some pointers.
1. Don’t Stop Working Out
The first and most important tip to be given comes right at the beginning: don’t stop working out. Your body maintains muscle mass as long as it feels it is needed and when you stop exercising, will slowly build back what it feels is unnecessary luggage that costs extra energy. Even though you may not make gains in muscle mass during Ramadan, you can at least preserve what you have if you keep your schedule up.
2. Adjust Intensity
In your regular schedule you may be able to do x amount of weight during benchpresses and do 90 lb curls without batting an eye. But if you usually do your workouts in the late afternoons and then try the same intensity during Ramadan – when you have already fasted for 8 – 10 hours and a long and busy day is behind you – you may not be able to pull that off.
There is nothing wrong with you here: after a long day, your carbohydrate reserves probably are depleted and carbohydrates are what let you work out with intensity.
What you may want to do is either adjust the weights you are using or the number of reps. If you want to stay with the weights you normally train with, allow for doing less repetitions and lower the weight if you fail to reach your normal number of minimum repetitions. If you want to lower the weight right from the beginning, then pick one that under the circumstances of the fast allows you a maximum of 12 – 15 reps.
3. Protein Timing
If you normally follow the rule of having several small doses of protein over the day, you of course can’t do that during Ramadan.
But if you manage to have a meal in the mornings, before fajr (صلاة الفجر), and of course the larger ones in the evening and have some protein in both, you will at least somewhat make up for it: protein in food is absorbed much slower than protein from powders and will stay with you quite a bit of time.
If you want to use a powder at all, then it should be one based on casein, and not on the “fast” whey (see end of this article).
4. Carbohydrates In The Morning
Another reason for a morning meal is that you can not only have some protein at that time, but also carbohydrates. And as carbs let you work out with intensity, as we said above, loading up some of them in the mornings should counter a lack of carbs during the day.
If you are used to having a pre-workout meal this won’t make up entirely for it, but it at least should help tide you over.
5. Adjust Workout Times
This should work especially well if you can adjust to having your workouts within a couple of hours of this morning meal, as your carbohydrate reserves will then be quite high. If your workouts take place after a long day of fasting, you might feel rather drained.
6. Work Out When It Feels Best
However, many people of course can’t simply go and do their workouts when they would be most beneficial, especially during Ramadan.
A bit of flexibility might help: Instead of doing your workouts at your normal times, during Ramadan do them when you have time and feel the most energetic. A workout done when you feel you have the energy and can do it with intensity is better than a workout you squeeze in and do hurriedly, just because in theory your energy reserves would be better.
7. Get Enough Fluids
When talking about nutrition, we also shouldn’t forget about getting enough fluids. In my video about how much water you need per day, I said thirst is a good indicator for when you have to drink. However, during Ramadan you can’t drink when you are thirsty.
Therefore Ramadan is one of the few times where my advice is to load up on fluids preemptively, before thirst takes place. Especially for those of you living in hot climates this is rather important; even more so, when you want to do a workout during the day.
8. Don’t Go All Out In The Evenings
Strangely enough, despite Ramadan being a month of fasting, I know a good number of Muslims who actually gain weight during that month. Because what in many families is then served in the evenings more than makes up for what was lacking during the day.
Of course, it’s rather easy to overeat when you went without food for 10, 12 or even 14 hours, but do exercise some self-control. In the evenings, get that protein we talked about, but keep an eye on how many calories you consume.
9. Ramadan Is Tougher In Summer
Last but not least, don’t forget that Ramadan is more difficult to follow in summer than winter, because during summer daylight lasts much longer, you will have less time to eat and drink and also get less sleep.
Therefore, during the years where Ramadan takes place during summer, as this year, be prepared that you may not be able to put out the same workout performances you get when Ramadan takes place in winter.
Questions Or Comments?
I compiled this advice with my general knowledge on nutrition, working out and physical performance in a fasted state – I am not a Muslim myself. If you therefore have some first hand experience, corrections or advice about Ramadan and bodybuilding you would like to add, please feel free to do so!